"It does seem, and it is most shocking indeed," replied Elizabeth, with tears in her eyes, "that a sister's sense of decency and virtue in such a point should admit of doubt. But, really, I know not what to say. Perhaps I am not doing her justice. But she is very young; she has never been taught to think on serious subjects; and for the last half year, nay, for a twelvemonth, she has been given up to nothing but amusement and vanity
. She has been allowed to dispose of her time in the most idle and frivolous
manner, and to adopt any opinions that came in her way. Since the ----shire were first quartered in Meryton, nothing but love, flirtation
, and officers have been in her head. She has been doing every thing in her power, by thinking and talking on the subject, to give greater -- what shall I call it? -- susceptibility
to her feelings, which are naturally lively enough. And we all know that Wickham has every charm of person and address that can captivate
"But you see that Jane," said her aunt, "does not think so ill of Wickham as to believe him capable of the attempt."
"Of whom does Jane ever think ill? And who is there, whatever might be their former conduct, that she would believe capable of such an attempt, till it were proved against them? But Jane knows, as well as I do, what Wickham really is. We both know that he has been profligate
in every sense of the word. That he has neither integrity
nor honour. That he is as false and deceitful
, as he is insinuating
"And do you really know all this?" cried Mrs. Gardiner, whose curiosity as to the mode of her intelligence was all alive.
"I do, indeed," replied Elizabeth, colouring. "I told you the other day, of his infamous
behaviour to Mr. Darcy; and you, yourself, when last at Longbourn, heard in what manner he spoke of the man who had behaved with such forbearance
towards him. And there are other circumstances which I am not at liberty -- which it is not worth while to relate; but his lies about the whole Pemberley family are endless. From what he said of Miss Darcy, I was thoroughly prepared to see a proud, reserved, disagreeable girl. Yet he knew to the contrary himself. He must know that she was amiable and unpretending
as we have found her."
"But does Lydia know nothing of this? Can she be ignorant of what you and Jane seem so well to understand?"
"Oh, yes! -- that, that is the worst of all. Till I was in Kent, and saw so much both of Mr. Darcy and his relation, Colonel Fitzwilliam, I was ignorant of the truth myself. And when I returned home, the ----shire was to leave Meryton in a week or fortnight's time. As that was the case, neither Jane, to whom I related the whole, nor I, thought it necessary to make our knowledge public; for of what use could it apparently be to any one that the good opinion which all the neighbourhood had of him should then be overthrown? And even when it was settled that Lydia should go with Mrs. Forster, the necessity of opening her eyes to his character never occurred to me. That she could be in any danger from the deception
never entered my head. That such a consequence as this should ensue
, you may easily believe was far enough from my thoughts."
"When they all removed to Brighton, therefore, you had no reason, I suppose, to believe them fond of each other."
"Not the slightest. I can remember no symptom of affection on either side; and had any thing of the kind been perceptible
, you must be aware that ours is not a family on which it could be thrown away. When first he entered the corps, she was ready enough to admire him; but so we all were. Every girl in or near Meryton was out of her senses about him for the first two months; but he never distinguished her by any particular attention, and consequently, after a moderate period of extravagant
and wild admiration, her fancy for him gave way, and others of the regiment who treated her with more distinction again became her favourites."